The Sony software that opens your computer up to all manner of security
breaches in an effort to stop you copying CDs raises more important
questions than just the obvious implications of allowing hackers to
take over your system.

Firstly, as Bruce Schneier (one of the most respected security researchers about) suggests in Wired,
where were the anti-virus companies? Questions should be asked
about what you are paying for (or who is paying whom) when you buy
anti-virus software if they ignore things like this.

But most important to note is the disregard for the copyrights of
software it
is based upon. Many of your readers would be familiar with Open
Source software such as Mozilla, Firefox, Open Office and Linux. This
software is free to download and use, which is probably of the greatest
interest to your readers. However, for computer nerds, the
software is distributed with a licence that gives you free access to
the source code and the ability to re-use it in your own programs –
provided you follow the rules.

The way you can use the source code varies depending on the licence it
is released under. With the least strict (eg a BSD license) you
can reuse the software in your own programs and distribute your new
program with no restrictions. Many companies like this licence,
because it allows them to bundle existing code into new products and
distribute that product to customers without revealing the underlying
source code.

The most strict (GNU Public License, or GPL) requires that if you use
the software as a basis for your new program, you must offer the new
source code, under the same licence, to anyone you give the new program
too. This means if you sell the new product to a customer you
must provide them with the source to your product under a GPL licence,
and the customer is then free to modify and redistribute it (again
under the GPL licence). Software authors usually like a licence
like this, because it allows them to write some software and offer it
to the world with a guarantee that if their software is made and
distributed as something new, the enhancements will made available for
everyone.

Other licences generally fall somewhere in between, but the common
point is that software authors choose their licence depending on their
personal goals for how they wish to protect and allow their creations
to be used.

A number of programmers are analysing the Sony CD software (actually
created by a company called First4Internet) and have identified code
within it which violates the rules of the licences it was distributed
under. See here for a technical overview.

This leads to an incredible irony; Sony is distributing software to
protect the copyright of its music on the CD, but this very software
violates the licence terms of the authors who code they are
using. To a software author, someone ignoring your licence terms
is the equivalent of “stealing,” and we all know from the ads before
the movie starts that it’s not cool to steal “intellectual property.”

While the American industry associations are suing consumers for file
sharing and using laws like the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA)
to make it ever harder to get access to the very data you have paid
for, they ignore the digital rights of everyone but themselves when
creating their crappy “enforcement” software.